Dr Johnson is supposed to have said of Milton’s Paradise Lost that all admire but few have wished it longer. The BBC’s three hour history of Istanbul aka Constantinople aka Byzantium on the other hand really could have done with being a good deal longer. How is anybody supposed to tell the story of a place with such an event filled history in so little time? Brevity and compression are great things in many ways, but you can take them too far. Quite apart from having to leave so much out, you also just don’t get the sense of depth you need to appreciate such a large subject.
The Byzantine court during the reign of the ineffectual Arcadius in the late fourth century was run by two men. The emperor’s favourite at court was the corrupt and worldly Eutropius who ran the civil administration of the empire largely for his own benefit. The army was run by the Goth Gainas.
I am working my way through an extended review of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I have reached the point at which we can start thinking of this as being a history of the Byzantine Empire. The term Byzantine to describe the Eastern Roman empire wasn’t commonly used in Gibbon’s time, though he uses that adjective often enough. It is often said that Gibbon disliked and disparaged the Byzantines, and it is from the start of Chapter 32 that the quote most often used to justify this idea comes.
In fact it is the first sentence.
Constantine died in Nicomedia in 337 after a short illness. He had lived to 64, a good age for the time. The death of Constantine ended one of the longest reigns in the history of the empire. His death came just after he had celebrated his thirtieth year as emperor, something only Augustus had previously achieved. It was fitting that he was buried in Constantinople, the city he founded.